Wednesday, December 09, 2009

All That Happened at Number 26, by Denise Scott

After years of working the Australian comedy circuit, a career that involved stand-up, regular radio spots and TV appearances, performer Denise Scott has put pen to paper to write this warm chucklefest of a memoir.

The number 26 of the title refers to the home Scott and her husband bought when they were skinflint. Directly after her husband had bought the home at an auction, at Scott’s prompting, she immediately broke down, bawled her eyes out and declared she hated the house. Her flummoxed husband asked what the matter was. "Well, why did you tell me to bid?"

"Because we have to live somewhere and I knew all we could afford was some ugly, horrible piece of shit."

Amazingly, Scott and family (two grown up children, Jordie and Bonnie) still live at number 26 today. The reason? You adapt, says Scott, and soon learn to turn negatives into positives.

This attitude, of turning positives into negatives, underlines a lot of the comedy in this book. All Scott ever wanted was a nice suburban house, to live like ‘normal’ people with nice things. Instead all she got was a house that was frequently falling down around her ears, leaking water, and filled with furniture that was either found, borrowed or donated to the family.

Life at number 26 it seemed would never be normal, no matter how much Scott strived for middle class respectability and decency. One day the comedienne was shocked to come home and find her husband airing their filthy futon – with its years of built up mould from sleeping on it directly on the floor, ignoring the shop assistant’s advice to roll it up daily – out in the front garden. This was literally airing your dirty laundry in public.

So financially stretched were the couple that they thought nothing of even taking in unwanted underwear and sharing it, like the time they accepted a unwanted pair of underpants from husband John’s cousin, Gavin. They were a pair of pale-brown undies with dark brown trim and made of 100 synthetic bri-nylon. Scott described them as an ‘emergency pair’. One day she mindlessly put them on and went to a TV shoot for an SBS series called Piccolo Mondo. It turned out the love scene she was doing in the end required her to remove her underpants – Cousin Gavin’s as it turns out – while still on the set. Oh, the humiliation and embarrassment! The underpants didn’t fare well under the hot studio lighting.

"High temperatures and bri-nylon do not a good marriage make, that’s all I’m trying to say. My memory is of the wardrobe lady, looking as though she was about to dry-retch, gingerly taking my cousin Gavin’s underpants from me and holding them at some distance as she carried them off-set, where she was charged with keeping them on ‘stand-by’ in case we reached a point where I could put them on again."

As Scott says of her house, you adapt and you turn negatives into positives. In this case, she soldiered on with her career and made a decent living out of making radio and TV appearances, plus doing her stand-up comedy gigs. Scott even worked for a time as a writer for Steve Vizard’s Tonight Show.

All That Happened at Number 26 is a laugh a page book filled with much chaotic humanity. Her mad house filled with adventures is like a Chaucerian tale gotten out of hand: the Wife of Bath pissed on Chardonnay and watching television at 5.30 in the afternoon. It’s warm, funny and makes you ready to accept your own humanity.

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